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Strominger v. Indiana Department of Correction

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division

September 25, 2017




         I. BACKGROUND

         This matter is before the Court on a Motion for Summary Judgment filed by the Defendants, Indiana Department of Correction (“IDOC”) and Lt. C. Nicholson (“Lt. Nicholson”) dkt [48]. The Plaintiff, Raymond Strominger (“Mr. Strominger”), is an inmate who is currently confined at the Pendleton Correctional Facility but was formerly incarcerated at the Wabash Valley Correctional Facility (“Wabash Valley”). He is confined to a wheelchair. The incidents giving rise to the claims in the Amended Complaint all occurred at Wabash Valley.

         When the Court screened the Amended Complaint, it allowed Claim 1 to proceed. Claim 1 alleges that Mr. Strominger was denied access to outdoor recreation for over ten months, beginning in December 2013, because Lt. Nicholson failed to timely and properly repair a wheelchair ramp. Mr. Strominger alleges that these circumstances violated his rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12101, et. seq. (the “ADA”), the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. § 794 (“Rehab Act”), and the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. The ADA and Rehab Act claims were allowed to proceed against the IDOC. The constitutional claims for damages are proceeding against Lt. Nicholson in his individual capacity only. Mr. Strominger seeks compensatory and punitive damages.

         For the reasons explained in this Entry, the Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment is granted.


         The purpose of summary judgment is to “pierce the pleadings and to assess the proof in order to see whether there is a genuine need for trial.” Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 5');">5 U.S. 5');">574');">475');">5 U.S. 5');">574, 5');">587 (1986). Summary judgment is appropriate when the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 5');">56(a). A “material fact” is one that “might affect the outcome of the suit.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). To survive a motion for summary judgment, the non-moving party must set forth specific, admissible evidence showing that there is a material issue for trial. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). The court views the record in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draws all reasonable inferences in that party's favor. Darst v. Interstate Brands Corp., 5');">512 F.3d 903');">5');">512 F.3d 903, 907 (7th Cir. 2008). It cannot weigh evidence or make credibility determinations on summary judgment because those tasks are left to the fact-finder. O'Leary v. Accretive Health, Inc., 5');">57 F.3d 625');">5');">65');">57 F.3d 625');">5, 630 (7th Cir. 2011).

         A dispute about a material fact is genuine only “if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). If no reasonable jury could find for the non-moving party, then there is no “genuine” dispute. Scott v. Harris, 5');">55');">50 U.S. 372');">5');">55');">50 U.S. 372, 380 (2007).


         A. Undisputed Facts

         The following statement of facts was evaluated pursuant to the standards set forth above. That is, this statement of facts is not necessarily objectively true, but as the summary judgment standard requires, the undisputed facts and the disputed evidence are presented in the light reasonably most favorable to Mr. Strominger as the non-moving party with respect to the motion for summary judgment. See Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Products, Inc., 5');">530 U.S. 133');">5');">530 U.S. 133, 15');">50 (2000).

         At all times relevant, Mr. Strominger was incarcerated at Wabash Valley. He uses a wheelchair, and this lawsuit relates to a wheelchair ramp that led from his housing unit, the secured confinement unit (“SCU”), to the outdoor recreation area. Before December 2013, Mr. Strominger had been using the ramp without issue. Dkt. [85');">5]-1, p. 18, lines 14-17; p. 19, lines 8-10 (Strominger Deposition). Sometime in December 2013, he was on his way to outdoor recreation when he discovered a hole in the ramp. Amended Complaint, dkt. [5');">5], p. 6; dkt. [85');">5]-1, p. 18, lines 18-25');">5; dkt. [68], ¶ 19 (Strominger's Declaration). Mr. Strominger believes that if the wheel of his wheelchair went into the hole he would have been flipped out of his chair, although this never actually occurred. Dkt. [85');">5]-1, pp. 28-29. He does not know if he could have maneuvered around the hole because he stopped using the ramp after discovering the hole. Dkt. [85');">5]-1, p. 24, lines 5');">5-25');">5; p. 25');">5, lines 1-17. Mr. Strominger alleged in the Amended Complaint that he “would not try to use the ramp again as it is too unsafe.” Dkt. [5');">5], p. 7, ¶ 6. Further, he does not allege that Lt. Nicholson or anyone else prohibited him from trying to use the damaged ramp. See dkt. [5');">5].

         In contrast to what he pled in the Amended Complaint and in grievances, Mr. Strominger testified during his deposition that he wanted to use the ramp, but that staff would not allow him to use it. Specifically, Mr. Strominger testified that staff was ordered by Lt. Nicholson that Mr. Strominger was not allowed to use the ramp. Dkt. [85');">5]-1, p. 43, lines 4-25');">5; p. 44, lines 1-16. Mr. Strominger does not remember the names of any officer who prevented him from using the ramp. Id., p. 48.

         Lt. Nicholson disputes ever telling Mr. Strominger that he was not allowed to use the ramp. Id., p. 44, lines 5');">5-25');">5; p. 45');">5, line 1. Lt. Nicholson testified that he did not issue an order that Mr. Strominger or any other offender not be allowed to use the ramp. As a Lieutenant, Lt. Nicholson would have been aware if such an order had been issued in the SCU, and he is unaware of there being such an order. Dkt. [48]-1, ¶ 10.

         Mr. Strominger was housed in administrative segregation, and offenders in administrative segregation are placed in mechanical restraints when they are escorted around the facility. Lt. Nicholson has always understood that Mr. Strominger would receive staff assistance if he wanted to use the ramp and go to outdoor recreation. Id., ¶¶ 2-3. Lt. Nicholson testified that if he had been aware of staff not allowing Mr. Strominger to use the ramp, he would have taken appropriate steps to make sure Mr. Strominger had access to the recreation area. Id., ¶ 11.

         Mr. Strominger contacted Lt. Nicholson in December 2013 regarding issues with the ramp. Answer, dkt. [25');">5], ¶ 4; dkt. [68], ¶¶ 19-20. Lt. Nicholson inspected the ramp in January 2014. After inspecting the ramp, Lt. Nicholson determined that the ramp was damaged, but that it could still be used. He also believed that the hole in the ramp could be avoided. Dkt. [48]-1, ¶¶ 5');">5-6. While Lt. Nicholson believed the ramp was in usable condition, he also determined that it should be repaired with wood. Id., ¶ 7. The ramp was exposed to the outside conditions, so it would get wet when it rained. Dkt. [85');">5]-1, p. 26, lines 10-17. Mr. Strominger testified that that was why the ramp became damaged. Id.

         In an internal email dated January 24, 2014, related to a discussion of repairing the ramp, Lt. Nicholson stated that the “current ramps are a hazard.” Dkt. [48]-2. Notwithstanding his statement, Lt. Nicholson still believed that the ramps were safe and appropriate to use with staff assistance. Dkt. [48]-1, ¶ 9.

         On April 27, 2014, Mr. Strominger tried to go to outside recreation but when the officer pushing him saw the ramp, he stopped and pulled Mr. Strominger back and said he was not going to chance pushing him into the hole. The officer then pushed Mr. Strominger back to his cell. Dkt. [68], ¶ 21. Mr. Strominger filed an informal grievance about the ramp on April 27, 2014. Dkt. [48]-7, p. 4. This grievance was assigned # 82140. Id., p. 1. He complained that the ramp had a “big hole” in it and he had been “told by Sgt. Busbe over 3 months ago it was fixed, but it is not and only getting worse.” Id., p. 4. On April 28, 2014, Lt. Nicholson responded to the informal complaint that “[t]his is scheduled to be totally replaced by a new concrete one. I don't have a completion date yet.” Dkt. [48]-7, p. 4.

         On April 29, 2014, in his formal grievance, Mr. Strominger stated that “[t]he other day when I used the ramp, 4/27/14, my front wheel on my wheel chair almost went through the hole, which would have flipped me head first out of my wheelchair.” Id., p. 3. Mr. Strominger also complained that the ramp “has become so unsafe that I am unable to use it at all in fear that I will get hurt, therefore leaving me unable to have access to the outside rec area . . .” Id.

         On May 1, 2014, shortly after grievance #82140 was filed, Lt. Nicholson investigated and photographed the ramp in its damaged condition. See dkt. [48]-3. This photograph accurately depicts the ramp in its damaged condition. Dkt. [48]-1, ¶ 13; dkt. [85');">5]-1, p. 23, lines 14-24.

         On May 12, 2014, Lt. Nicholson reported to the grievance specialist that he had investigated Mr. Strominger's complaint and the handicapped ramp was temporarily repaired with wood until a concrete ramp is completed. Dkt. [48]-7, p. 8. On June 2, 2014, the ...

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